By Marianne E. Weaver
Part of the Prince William Living mission is to enhance the quality of life in our community and inspire our readers to do the same. In every issue, we feature organizations that give back through their missions and good works to create greater awareness and support of their efforts.
Once a year, we invite our readers to nominate outstanding not-for-profit groups in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park for our “Giving Back Award.” This year, just as in the previous years, the nominations poured in. A combination of public nominations, voting and evaluation by PWL judges is used to determine the winners. By including a public vote, we hope to build awareness of the many nonprofit organizations working to enhance Prince William while we also discover new opportunities to give back that we can then introduce to our readers in future issues.
2018 Prince William Living Giving Back Award Winner: The Good News Community Kitchen
Based on 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Feeding America, a nonprofit nationwide network of 200 food banks, found that six percent of the people living in Prince William—that’s more than 26,000 people—are food insecure. The Good News Community Kitchen (TGNCK), a 501(c)3 organization based in Occoquan, has spent the last two years trying to reduce that number.
Mercedes N. Kirkland-Doyle, founder and executive director, opened the doors at 308 Poplar Alley #B, Occoquan, on Aug. 10, 2016, to meet the ever-increasing needs of the region’s underserved populations.
“Mercedes and her team work tirelessly to raise awareness of homelessness, hunger and the need for family support in our community,” said Shanel Evans, who submitted the nomination for this organization, which provides hunger relief to veterans, students, senior citizens, survivors of domestic violence and families who live in the Northern Virginia and metropolitan Washington, D.C. region.
The mission statement is straightforward: To rebuild and strengthen communities by fighting hunger one meal at a time. The program, however, is multi-dimensional. TGNCK focuses on four core initiatives: Mobile Meals, Hygiene Heroes, Warm Winters and Trends to Transition.
Mobile Meals provides ready-to-eat meals to the underserved throughout the region. Generally, summer meals include two sandwiches, a healthy snack, bottled water and utensils; fall and winter meals replace one sandwich with a bowl of soup. TGNCK recently added a new component to this program–emergency meal units (EMU), which are distributed to families in need of dry goods. Each EMU consists of a one-pound bag of rice, two cans of beans and one pound of old-fashioned oats. Families are permitted emergency meal units twice a month.
Hygiene Heroes provides essential toiletries, such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, socks, feminine hygiene products, and hand sanitizer to those in need. These items are available during mobile meal distribution and can be retrieved on an individual basis upon need.
Through the Warm Winters program, TGNCK collects gently used or new coats, ranging in size from youth small to adult extra-large, to provide to individuals and/or families. Gently used or new blankets also are collected and distributed to the displaced underserved population located in the metropolitan D.C. area.
The focus of the Trends to Transition initiative is to collect professional attire for men and women transitioning back into the workforce. But this program is more than a handout. To qualify for assistance, each participant must have completed a job-training program, scheduled an interview, and obtained a referral from one of TGNCK’s partners, which include homeless shelters, welfare-to-work job training centers and job training programs for veterans, disabled individuals and recovering substance abusers.
“I value community partnerships and believe in uniting to increase diversity in thought, presence and our area of impact,” said Kirkland-Doyle.
TGNCK is supported through private, organizational, federal and individual grants and contributions. Some supporters include the Old Bridge United Methodist Church, Greenwich Presbyterian Church of Nokesville, Gospel Outreach Community Church, Lake Ridge Rotary Club, Auxiliary Club of Post 7916, Occoquan Baptist Church, Wegmans, Treeline Ministries, The Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, Pearls Inc., Pi Lambda Lambda Chapter, Kappa Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. and Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.
Evans witnessed the community support for TGNCK firsthand at a recent fundraiser.
“I attended the TGNCK gala, the organization’s annual event to raise operating funds for the year, and was impressed with how diverse the organization’s volunteer base is,” she said. “Mercedes and her team have an amazing ability to bring together volunteers of various backgrounds, ages and demographics, as well as partners from various faith-based organizations and social clubs that want to support the mission of reducing hunger in our community. I was also extremely impressed by the organization’s ability to engage our young professional, millennial population with volunteer and leadership opportunities.”
For more information about TGNCK, visit tgnck.org.
2018 Prince William Living Giving Back Award Runner Up: Agape Love in Action Inc.
The Agape Love in Action (ALIA) mission, according to ALIA founder and CEO Corliss Udoema, comes from this bible verse in 1 John: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
“ALIA’s mission is to help people in need … [we offer]a loving heart and a helping hand to those in need,” said Udoema. “Motivated by our faith and our desire to serve the poor and the oppressed, and to uplift those who are downcast, we work alongside others as a simple demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people. We do this by sponsoring community outreach and development programs, which, among other tangible deliverables, connect local service providers with individuals suffering physical, emotional, mental, social or economic wellness challenges.”
ALIA is a nonprofit organization focused on helping the homeless, supporting veteran-owned businesses, and empowering senior citizens through four initiatives: Business Battle Buddy, Hope in a Bag, Reach 2 Feed, and Wisdom Meets Technology.
The Business Battle Buddy program is a team of professionals working to provide counseling, coaching and guidance on strategies to help veterans accomplish their business goals and learn how to compete for federal contracts and subcontracts. Through seminars and workshops, and follow-up online coaching, ALIA volunteers teach former service members the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship.
The Hope in a Bag initiative delivers brown paper bags filled with socks, candy bars, snacks and words of hope and encouragement to the homeless and those seeking temporary shelter in various locations throughout Prince William.
Through Reach 2 Feed, ALIA volunteers work with additional volunteers and organizations to commit to helping at least one family obtain a nutritious meal, and then paying it forward by spreading the word to two other people and asking them to do the same.
The Wisdom Meets Technology program provides engaging and enjoyable free computer literacy classes to seniors taught by IT students from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).
ALIA works collaboratively with faith-based, philanthropic, government, corporate, academic and community service organizations to meet the basic human needs of all people by providing tools to enhance lives. For more information, visit agapeloveinaction.com.
2018 Prince William Living Giving Back Award Runner Up: Serve Our Willing Warriors
The nonprofit Serve Our Willing Warriors (SOWW) was founded in March 2013. Two years later, the organization opened the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run as a cost-free respite from prolonged hospital care for recovering warriors.
“Our retreat property provides a much-needed break away from the hospital environment for the warriors and their families to relax, enjoy quality time, and reconnect in an intimate, homelike setting,” said John Dominick, vice president and co-founder. “This getaway helps to revitalize the mind, spirit and soul, important aspects of the holistic healing process.”
The retreat is located in Haymarket on 37 acres among the foothills of Bull Run Mountain. The more than 10,000-squarefoot house includes five master bedroom suites, a gourmet kitchen, a great room, a dining room, an elevator, a loft, a multipurpose recreation area, a fitness room, a massage therapy room, a library, and a gaming room with a wide-screen TV, pool table and kitchenette. Outside, guests have access to a basketball court, children’s play area, serenity and vegetable gardens, picnic areas, hiking trails and a patio with a wood-burning fire pit.
SOWW arranges far more than just a place to stay. Visitors are encouraged to choose from more than 60 activities provided by SOWW partners. Options include photo shoots, fishing excursions, helicopter tours, horseback riding, canine therapy sessions and excursions to nearby museums, shooting ranges, vineyards and performing arts venues.
Each Sunday, a volunteer visiting chef prepares a custom-ordered gourmet meal.
“Our caring staff and volunteers plan, coordinate, and manage every aspect of the warriors’ six-day stays based on their interests and preferences,” said Dominick. “The testimonials of our guests confirm its value. These include reports of increased self-esteem, strengthened family relations, saved marriages, breakthroughs in struggles with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, feeling encouraged and inspired to rebuild their lives, and even newfound hope to offset feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide.”
Since opening July 4, 2015, the retreat has hosted approximately 300 warriors along with 500 family members and friends. For more information, visit willingwarriors.org.
Selecting Our Winners
A combination public vote and ratings by PWL judges is used in determining the winners. Why a public vote? At Prince William Living, we want to encourage volunteerism among our readers. By including a public vote, we hope to build awareness of the many nonprofit organizations working to enhance Prince William and introduce our readers to new opportunities to give back to the community.
Follow our giving back initiative on Facebook at facebook.com/GiveBackPW.
2018 Prince William Living Giving Back Award Nominees:
- Agape Love in Action
- Creative and Performing Arts Center
- David J Cobb Foundation
- Healing HeARTS Mobile Art Studio
- Hydro Relief and Water Conservation Resources
- National Capital Area Council, Boy Scouts of America
- National coalition of 100 black women Prince William County Chapter
- Northern Virginia Veterans Association
- Occoquan Woodbridge Lorton Volunteer Fire Department
- Prince William Historic Preservation Foundation
- Prince William Humane Society
- Semper K9 Assistance Dogs
- Serve Our Willing Warriors
- Soroptimist International of Manassas
- Tavares Taylor Charities, Inc.
- The Cristina M. Weir Foundation for Excellence in Education
- The Good News Community Kitchen
- The OPHELIA Foundation
- Write by the Rails
- Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated Phi Kappa Zeta Chapter
Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.